The other day, I saw some advertisements for a new Xbox 360 game that will make use of Kinect, a hands-free controller scheme that allows players to use their bodies as the “controller.” The game is called Kinect: Star Wars.
From the reviews I’ve seen online and impressions I’ve heard from gaming journalists, Kinect: Star Wars isn’t a particularly good Kinect experience nor is it a particularly good use of the Star Wars universe. It leans heavily on its appeal to young children and the ever-important nostalgia factor.
Personally, I don’t care much about the merits of a game aimed at children and whether such a game’s poor qualities are forgivable since kids don’t really know any better. What interested me about this game and its audience is that for most children, the appeal of this new game really comes from the fact that it is based heavily on the Star Wars fiction that has been released in the past decade or two. In other words, Episodes IV-VI, while not reviled by children, are not the best or most interesting films.
Why? I suspect part of the reason is that the Original Trilogy is “better” in the eyes of children is that the vision of the future that the prequels presents makes more sense in 2012. Let’s face it, it can sometimes be a little hard to swallow that the Rebel Alliance wears 70’s style hairdos and Imperial Stormtroopers don plastic cookware to conquer the galaxy. This is even more apparent when you consider that in the Prequel Triology, everyone looks a whole lot more… modern.
In other words, our view of the future is a reflection of our current ideas and preferences. What we think is possible now may seem absurd, irrelevant or naive tomorrow.
As I thought about this, I started to consider the fact that video games are still a relatively young medium as far as the graphical representation of the future is concerned. Only in the past six or seven years (the birth of the 360 and PS3 generation) have games been released in which graphics have not severely limited the capabilities of games to present cohesive visions. As such, in the past decade, we have seen a number of visions of the future from game developers.To name a few:
- Killzone series
- Halo series
- Mass Effect series
- Gears of War series
- Deus Ex series
I suspect that in another decade, we will see that the games that seemed to be creative visions of the future, are actually quaint. It will be like watching pulp sci-fi flicks from the 1950’s and see what a Cold War society thought about the future. In 2000, everyone will be flying to work in jetpacks! How drole!
It makes you wonder what we’re putting into our current games that will seem ridiculous later on. Will the fact that the player drives a motorized vehicle in Halo seem absurd? What about laser rifles or talking aliens?
Again, the video game medium is still slightly too young for anyone to comment on this phenomenon, but I look forward to taking a retroactive look at, say, the first Halo game, and seeing that Cortana’s hairstyle no longer matches our expectations of the future.
Speaking of the future and video games, what will video games look like in fifty years? Think of what games were in 1962. Having trouble? That’s because they kind of didn’t exist. Pong wasn’t even released until 1972. What will games look like in 2062?
I think the only thing we can say for certain is that the future of video games is a complete unknown. Nevertheless, I would like to make a few guesses, as Kevin the Futurist:
- When we talk about “retina displays” we won’t be talking about traditional LCD displays; we’ll be talking about contact lenses or glasses which project game worlds directly into our own eyes. It will include peripheral vision and full immersion. I base this prediction on the promise of Google’s work with their glasses, introducing a HUD to real life. If Google is working with doing this in real life, virtual reality is essentially a given.
- Consoles will be a thing of the past given the increasing speed of networks. Similar to the current OnLive technology, the processing power for games will be located away from the player, with the game experience being delivered through a super high speed internet connection. Similarly, video game stores will no longer exist as digital distribution will be the only manner to purchase games and play games.
- Fully single-player experiences will be incredibly rare, given the delivery method of video games. By “fully single-player” I mean to say games that exist 100% outside of the influence of other players. This may be as simple as a community hub that is integrated with the game so that when you launch it, you are exposed to other people’s opinions of the game experience. I doubt classical RPG’s will die completely, but at least some part of the experience will bring the player into contact with others. I do not believe this is an entirely bad thing; after all, it may put the player in contact with other like-minded players. This may occur within ten years.
- The popularity of online competitive multiplayer games will reach a record high, as a large portion of the population will be connected to global competition networks. E-sports will be as popular as traditional sports, with leagues, sponsorships and comprehensive coverage dominating the public imagination. Technically, this sort of thing already exists, but as networking becomes more prevalent, the potential for video games to enter the zeitgeist increases rapidly.
- We will continue to see popular franchises, which are popular today, being reincarnated as popular titles. Don’t be surprised if you see something akin to Halo 8 or Final Fantasy LVII. There is simply no reason for popular franchises to completely disappear. Eventually, everything popular enough to have a dedicated (and nostalgic) fanbase, will be re-made.
- Given the popularity of games in the future, legislation will be introduced to further “protect our children.” This means more strict guidelines for giving games age ratings, especially as the realism of games reaches near-lifelike proportions.
- Controller schemes will be integrated into specialized devices which require little to know physical movement on the part of the player. This will mean games will be more immersive and potentially require incredibly good reflexes and spatial awareness.
- Within 50 years, I suspect we may finally see the “Citizen Kane” of gaming. This isn’t to say that we will see a game with a story that rivals great works of literature. Although this will probably be the case, this future title will finally make nearly flawless use of the video game medium. Player faculty and environmental interaction will be the hallmarks of games in the new era. This may be the end of linear, “corridor-style” shooters.
- Given networking technology, we will no longer see mobile gaming being segregated from other forms of gaming. The highest spectrum of games will be playable both in the comforts of ones home as well as on the street, on public transportation or even during board meetings.
- Your mother will still call video games “Nintendo.”
What does the future hold? Science fiction in literature, film, television and video games likes to try to answer this question. Will we be fighting alien Communists? Will we be using devices that look strikingly similar to next generation iPad devices to pilot space ships? No matter the answer, in a decade or so, we’ll think we were naive for the predictions we are making today. All I know is that the progress we have made in less than a half a century in gaming makes the next century an exciting prospect.
I just hope 2012 isn’t really the end of the world!
Stay tuned for more essays. Maybe a video! Who knows what the future will hold, right?